Selected presentations with related papers

Recent conference talks, selected

“From verb semantics to subjectivity: A diachronic analysis of V-V complex-predicate formation and grammaticalization”, A Mini International Workshop on the Grammaticalization of Motion Verbs in Japanese (National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Tokyo [Zoom], October 30, 2020)

Diachronic research in various languages have revealed striking regularities with regard to semantic relationships between the source lexical items and their grammaticalized counterparts (e.g., Bybee et al., 1994; Heine & Kuteva, 2002; Kuteva et al., 2019). However, the mechanisms of grammaticalization, especially at the beginning stage of the process, remain under-explored. This study examines a process related to grammaticalization, Verb-Verb complex predicate formation, whereby the dependency between two verbal predicates (V1,V2) strengthens over time. The present talk focuses on collected data from literary texts from the Edo Period (extracted from Japan Knowledge and additional collections) that contain the Japanese verb of displacement shimau “to put; finish” as the V2 element, and the grammaticalized -i/-te-shimau, which marks multiple meanings including “completion” and “(speaker’s) regret.” It first outlines two previously proposed mechanisms: 1) reanalysis of two Vs based on their syntactic contiguity (DeLancey1991, Falsgraf & Park, 1994), and 2) association of two Vs based on semantic congruity (Shibatani & Chung, 2007, on deictic verbs iku and kuru). While the attested V1 elements in the data seem to be in favor of the latter (i.e., the majority of them are semantically similar to shimau), my analysis further demonstrates that the spatio-temporal nature of the original semantics of the verb shimau, as well as the notion of subjectivity must be considered to fully assess both possibilities.

Interpreting semantic judgment tests on subjectivity and intersubjectivity, Meaning in Flux: Connecting development, variation and change (Yale university, CT, October 10-12, 2019)

The purpose of this presentation is to illustrate the cognitive and communicative factors that can lead to the emergence of subjective and intersubjective meanings. Either or both of these types of meanings can occur simultaneously with non-subjective meaning in a single occurrence, rather than strictly one sense at a time. This semantic characteristic is the result of diachronic processes, subjectification and/or intersubjectification as a type of semantic/functional extension and is thus best characterized in terms of layers of meanings, or possibly, semantic change in progress. The present talk sheds light on the role of hearers, who, as potential speakers themselves, may project their linguistic intuition onto others’ language usage. It presents the method and results of a set of semantic judgment tests on Japanese grammaticalized constructions (conducted in 2016). The test can be used to complement other more common approaches, such as corpus analyses. I will highlight the informants’ thought processes as depicted through comments from follow-up interviews, including “ambiguous” cases, in which different informants chose different answers or in which a single informant had difficulty coming up with an answer. It will be shown that these answers and comments offer valuable information for analyzing (inter)subjectification and meaning in flux.

What can we do with emotion adjectives?: Using manga as a visual conversation facilitator. Panel: Education through Manga, NYCAS (Rochester, NY, September 21-22, 2018)

There are numerous so-called emotion adjectives in Japanese (Murakami 2017), e.g., ureshii “happy”, many of which are introduced in language instruction textbooks. In real life, however, speakers’ (or writers’) feelings are not necessarily conveyed through direct, predicate forms, e.g., ureshii desu “(I’m) happy” (Minagawa 2016). Instead, we more often find indirect, embedded or fragmented expressions (cf. Maynard 2005). To this end, media like manga can serve as a rich resource for visual and nuanced emotions; manga not only uses these varying linguistic forms of emotivity, but also uses illustrations of facial expressions, often with onomatopoeia written in the background, to which we can reference using our own words. In this panel talk, I will first illustrate the linguistic characteristics of selected manga works, focusing on gastronomic themes, and discuss ways we might utilize certain scenes to facilitate the active usage of adjectives and related expressions of emotions. It will be suggested that the discourse genre and setup in question are suitable for activities for intermediate level Japanese, as they naturally require frequent use of some of the core grammatical structures, for example, those that indicate speculations/suppositions about others’ inner feelings, e.g., -souda/-yooda “looks like~”. 

Abe, S. (2020). What can we do with emotive adjectives?: Manga as a visual facilitator of empathetic expressions. Toku, M., & Dollase, T. H. (Eds.), Manga!: Visual Pop-Culture in ARTS Education (pp.187-198). InSEA Publications. DOI: 10.24981/2020-3

How force permeates through emotive discourse: A case of (inter)subjectivity in Japanese, 3rd conference of the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics (Ryerson University, Toronto, July 13-15, 2018)

Force is ubiquitous in human experience both literally and metaphorically—from everyday actions to intra-/inter-personal conflicts. Some force phenomena result from the laws of physics, and some are crafted or intended—as in a dramatic effect in a musical piece or the act of alleviating a social conflict. The present study examines how “force” permeates through language at multiple levels of (inter)subjectivity. It extends a cognitive semantic framework, force dynamics (Talmy 1988, 2000) to the domain of affect (cf. Kövecses 2000, Sweetser 1990). The analysis uses Japanese spoken and written corpora, including varying degrees/types of speaker/writer involvement (emotive, reader/addressee-conscious) and valences (negative, positive). The goal of the study is two-fold: 1) to present a set of FD patterns that underlie linguistic emotivity across different functional layers, and 2) to elucidate a systematic connection between (inter)subjective meanings and other conceptual systems, such as attention (Talmy 2007) and affective valence (negative, positive).

Abe, S. (2016). An L2 corpus study of the Japanese grammatical marker -te-simau: An Application of Force Dynamics. In Kabata, K. and K. Toratani (Eds.), Cognitive-Functional Approaches to the Study of Japanese as a Second Language (pp. 203-236). Boston, Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Food and force: A conceptual analysis of Japanese online columns, The Conference of the Language of Japanese Food (York University, Toronto, May 4-5, 2018)

This study examines ways in which tastes in season, or shun, are conceptualized through writers’ gastronomic experience, depicted in Japanese online columns. Food or drink items or multiple elements in an individual food/drink item (all referred to as “food”) are often portrayed as if it has a mind of its own or an “ego”, forcing or being forced by other entities. Using Talmy’s force dynamics (1988, 2000) as a framework, the analysis reveals a variety of causal patterns involving food surfaced as lexical, grammatical and periphrastic expressions: “enhanced”, “blocked”, “overcoming”, “persevering” and two types of “letting”, referred to as “letting-rest” and “letting-move”.

Abe, S. (2022) Applying force dynamics to analyze taste descriptions in Japanese online columns. K. Toratani (Ed.) The language of food in Japanese: Cognitive perspectives and beyond. John Benjamins.

Sociolinguistics as an empathy-building tool for global citizenship: (Un)learning the language of “self” and “other” [with Shawna Shapiro]
Language Awareness Association (ALA) Conference, (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, July 6, 2018)

In this talk, we discuss how sociolinguistics can serve as an entryway into discussions of difficult issues, particularly those related to diversity, equity, and social justice within a global context. We draw upon the idea of critically observing/(re)discovering “self” and “other” (Nussbaum 2002) and our experience teaching cross- and intra-linguistic variation in linguistics courses. Highlighting three “threshold concepts”: Descriptivism, Indexicality, and Language Ideology, and incorporating our classroom materials, we show how linguistic methods can facilitate an objective understanding of unfamiliar languages or variations, as well as of familiar ones in order to bring attention to our own implicit biases.

Abe, S. & Shapiro, S. (2021). Sociolinguistics as a pathway to global citizenship: Critically observing ‘self’ and ‘other’. Language Awareness 30(4), 355-370. 

Internal Talks (Middlebury), selected

Words and meanings in flux: A historical linguistic analysis of Japanese youth speech, Fall Faculty Forum (September 27, 2019)

Wakamono kotoba, or “youth language,” is often a target of criticism in Japan. However, a closer examination of word and meaning creation processes reveals striking regularities–as well as idiosyncrasies. This talk discusses an analysis of selected new words and constructions drawn from online and media texts through the lens of historical linguistics. The analysis reveals that youth speech creation often involves cognitive and pragmatic mechanisms that are prevalent in our daily conversations, such as metaphorical thinking and euphemism, which have contributed to the formation of language that is perceived as “proper” or “correct” today. The purpose of the talk is to tease apart aspects of language change that are predictable and those that are “peculiar” in order to identify the sources of perceived negativity on language in flux. The findings will be linked to a theoretical model that can be applied to analyze the speech of other demographics and from other languages.

“Inauthentic” use of authentic materials: Visual and linguistic analysis of manga (Behind-the-Scenes talk), Middlebury College, February 22, 2019

I present an analysis of Japanese emotion concepts drawn from manga as a possible medium for language pedagogy. In contrast to traditional textbooks, this research imagines authentic materials such as manga as rich sources of social situations captured through words, images, and stories. Informed by theories of lexicon, grammar, and cognition, this talk explores two aspects of digital technology: first, how it can contribute to a more systematic understanding of language and affect within linguistic study; and second, how it can help Japanese language learners grasp the discourse of empathy in Japanese more effectively.

Indescribable emotions in Japanese: Where meaning and context meet, Fall Faculty Forum (October 5, 2018)

Kuyashii, a Japanese adjective roughly translated as “vexing; mortifying” is one of many expressions that are considered language-specific and difficult to characterize. This talk highlights such “indescribable” expressions (Wierzbicka 1992), and shows how the study of word meaning (lexical semantics) and a usage-based approach (Barlow and Kemmer 2000), such as corpus linguistics and discourse analysis, can be integrated to facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of highly abstract concepts. Data drawn from corpora and pop culture materials, paired with a linguistic framework, suggest that Japanese emotive meanings, in particular negative ones, can be effectively represented in terms of internal psychological conflicts, which are linked to interpersonal and discourse contexts. The findings will also be discussed from the perspective of language pedagogy (cf. Murakami 2017).

Workshops and Invited Lectures, selected

Pedagogical strategies and examples for using sociolinguistics as an empathy-building tool for global citizenship [with Shawna Shapiro]
Language Awareness Association (ALA) Conference (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, July 7, 2018)

In this interactive workshop, we share strategies and classroom materials and discuss how linguistic methods can serve as a tool to understand issues pertaining to diversity and equity, such as implicit biases and “othering”. We will show how selected key concepts from sociolinguistics, Descriptivism, Indexicality, and Language Ideology, can be introduced and developed in the classroom. We present sample assignments and activities involving the analysis of multiple languages and variation within a language. Through interaction with the participants, we aim to deepen our discussion of how to connect linguistic theory and practice in the empathy-building process and beyond.

What semantic changes tell us about speakers’ and hearers’ roles: Some takeaways for Japanese language education
Invited talk at Purdue University, March 5, 2018


There are numerous old Japanese words whose usage has diverged greatly from those we see today. Meaning changes, however, even though they may look peculiar, often follow certain regular patterns—a theory supported by various cross-linguistic studies. How do such meaning/function changes actually occur? What do those changes tell us about how we act, think and use language? In this talk, I will present selected cases of grammatical phenomena, focusing on auxiliary verbs and modality expressions, and discuss the relevance of the roles of speakers’ and hearers’ perspectives in linguistic changes. The presentation will be followed by an informal discussion of recent and on-going language changes and why we might want to incorporate these topics in our  Japanese language (or Japanese linguistics) classes.

The role of visual input in learning Japanese
The Fifth Annual Vermont Teachers’ Meeting, Middlebury College, November 2014


Conceptualization of space (Philosophy of Language lecture)
University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy, October 2007

What does our mental representation of ON, as in the English propositional construction on [Noun Phrase], look like? How about the Japanese ue ni (上に) or Italian sopra? In this interactive lecture, we will observe and discuss various shades of locational relationships, ON and related concepts, ABOVE, OVER, IN, etc., using real-world visual examples. Enjoy challenging each other’s linguistic intuition on marginal cases!

Semantics, linguistic relativity and “color” (Philosophy of Language lecture)
University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy, September 2007

Does growing up appreciating sakura (cherry blossoms) or having the word to refer to them in the language(s) you speak make you more attentive to or make you remember more accurately the particular kind of “pink”? How do we categorize color and how does categorization surface in linguistic behavior? This lecture surveys some of the seminal works on color terms and cognition, focusing on three different types of views on the conceptualization of color suggested by: universalists, relativists and scholars who question the universality of the concept of COLOR itself.